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Heresy Hour

Compiled by Jack Baur

One of the most interesting parts of Joe Janes’ and Sarah Evans’ “Thoughtful Professional” class this past term was something we liked to call “Heresy Hour.” Each week, students were encouraged to come up with and ideas that are traditionally considered “heretical” to libraries – both in terms of how they are run and the services that they provide – and share them anonymously with the class as the springboard for conversations. This exercise was intended to encourage students to explore the values that underlie the everyday functions of the library and to challenge library orthodoxy.

Collected below are a handful of the heretical ideas that were brought to the class that I found particularly intriguing. Some are outrageous, some are more reasonable than they might first seem, and all are provocative. Use them to start your own conversations in class or with friends, or share your thoughts on The Silverfish Blog!

  • “Librarians should be certified and held to accountable professional standards, like doctors and lawyers, and therefore have the same consequences for unprofessional conduct, like doctors and lawyers (i.e. disbarment).”
  • “Fines are one of the most alienating aspects of public libraries for most users and in some cases, patrons' credit ratings can be damaged due to nonpayment of these fees. Patrons may chose to simply stop using the library rather than deal with paying their fines. Many will argue that getting rid of fines will lead to increased delinquency in returning materials and loss of revenue for libraries with already tight budgets. However, when calculating the loss of revenue, it is important to consider the expense involved in keeping track of and collecting the fines themselves and the potential impact of taxpayers' goodwill toward the library on future funding. Removal of fines does not necessarily entail removing all penalties: patrons who have out overdue books can be blocked from checking out more until they return them or pay for lost books. A library in England that got rid of late fees found that their return rates were about the same as for libraries that still collected fines. (See this article)”
  • “Public libraries should support reading and have a well-staffed Readers' Advisory desk. It's just as important as any reference and information function a library may offer. Before taking Nancy Pearl's class, I had no idea that this was part of a librarian's job. I'm guessing most of the general public doesn't either, so let's make it visible!”
  • Works of a dubious scientific or academic nature should be labeled when they are put on library shelves. Patrons should be informed when an author who calls him/herself ‘Dr.’ is not actually a doctor, and when claims that an author makes are not supported by any recognized expert in the field.”
  • “Let's have a higher standard of dress for library staff. Yes, it sounds superficial, but please no more dowdy librarians! If we want to be taken seriously as professionals, let's pay more attention to the way we present ourselves.”
  • “There are kid’s sections and kid’s computers (with filtering) in most public libraries. Why not also have adult sections? A separate room, 18+ only, in which the computers all face the walls so that those who want to view porn can do so, without risking others being offended. NC 17 movies and sexually graphic manga could be shelved in the middle of the room, so that it would be difficult to look around and watch people as they viewed their porn. A private balcony reserved for security staff (non-librarian) would allow monitoring of the room to make sure it wasn’t used inappropriately. Just like the youth, YA, and adult librarians that specialize in their areas, there could be an ‘Adult’ librarian who focused on that area of service.”
  • Academic libraries don't need professional librarians (wo)manning reference desks anymore. Too few substantive reference questions come through to merit wasting so much talent and expertise. Put up signs for the bathroom, photocopiers, and printers, and put a big red phone / strobe light / bell on the desk so patrons can page for help. This won't necessarily serve those people just looking for human interaction with a captive audience, but this population tends to be quite a bit smaller in academic libraries, and is a poor use of these librarians' skills anyway.”
  • “Let's circulate video games because if public libraries serve as a record of culture, then games seem like a significant area to preserve--and more importantly, to make accessible to all people. They serve recreational purposes, as does popular fiction. Games appeals to many, including teens, who are the future taxpayers and library supporters. And they're part of the new participatory spirit of media, and allow people to experience the narrative, to be the main character.”
  • “I think users should be able to purchase premium services at public libraries, provided that the fee will cover the costs of those services as well as provide income beyond that to subsidize services-for-all that otherwise might be cut from a budget in crisis.”
  • “Public libraries that are fortunate enough to secure corporate support need to be *very careful* in how it's implemented and what is promised in return for it. Using public spaces to advertise for-profit enterprises (i.e. naming rooms/spaces after corporate sponsors) is wrong. Just wrong. Doubly wrong when the space is intended for youth. There are plenty of appropriate ways to acknowledge donations without selling our patrons.”
  • Books that have been challenged should be labeled as such, along with the reason that they were challenged. Rather than putting a stigma on the books, I think the labels could be really helpful for promoting and facilitating discussion between librarians and patrons, as well as between parents and children. I also think that the labels could actually increase circulation of the books--the labels would make the books more eye-catching, and there's also the appeal (especially for young adults?) of reading books that are considered controversial.”
  • "I think that parents who view the Children's Department of their local public library as a daycare--i.e., dropping off their toddlers to play in the stacks while they use the unfiltered Internet stations in another area of the library--should be providing monetary compensation to the staff in said department."
  • “Professional librarians reinforce the mistaken belief that ordinary people are too stupid to find information on their own. Librarians do not need, and should not be required to have, Master’s degrees. The public would be better served if the money currently spent on the professional education of librarians were invested in expanding collections, extending open hours, building new facilities, and providing more opportunities for on-the-job training.”
  • “Librarians are too self-sacrificing. A lot of the problems we've talked about concerning the image of librarians is due to the fact that people don't know what librarians do or know, or how they're trained. Patrons who think that librarians just shelve books (or just read them) might be shocked to learn that librarians have Master’s degrees. It's time to put out a shingle proclaiming librarian expertise. Where else can you go for free help from someone with at least one advanced degree? Why don't more departmental Web pages brag about their librarians? At least put the degree initials after staff names. Let's put an end to the ‘You-have-to-go-to-school-for-that?’ syndrome.”
  • “Everyone who works in a library, no matter how degreed, should be required to spend a few hours working circulation each week. Though it's perceived as low level work, it gives a sense of how the library runs in a day to day way, and circ workers hear the concerns and questions of people who won't approach the reference desk for whatever reason (and sometimes, some of their reasons). It also gives a sense of how livable the ILS is, and may reduce tension between professionals and paraprofessionals. Librarians can apply some of the insights they gain to build a better library in general.”
  • Librarians should acknowledge patrons that they know when they see them outside the library to build a stronger sense of community (but not in cases where the greeting would be ‘did that book help you figure out what type of rash you have?’) Also if you see someone in a store with an information need that you can help with, help them! Tell them that you are a librarian and maybe we can get some patrons into the libraries we wouldn't normally.”

April 7, 2008
Vol. XII Issue 3

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Find more at the Silverfish Blog

Ridiculous Library of Congress Subject Headings
139 Responses Received!

Where do they work?
- 37% academic library
- 28% public library
- 21% in non-library settings
- 11% in special libraries
- 3% school library

What do they have to say??

See the results..

Words NOT to use in your MLIS portfolioirregardless, succulent, manipulate, lackluster, Bacardi, synergy, poseur, bloodshot, technological muscle, litter box, existential, beleaguer, The Wiggles, importune, lascivious, America’s Next Top Model, baby penguin

Courtesy of Jamie Hancock and Katie Maynard